Appointing Architects and other Professionals for work on Historic Buildings

Undertaking repairs and projects (Starting a Property Project) on historic buildings does not have to be complicated, even if these buildings are listed buildings or buildings in conservation areas. In fact, it can be relatively straightforward if you employ the right professional advice. This is why we advise you to appoint an architect in this capacity, principally so they can liaise with others on your behalf, as well as design sympathetic solutions that comply with the statutory legislation (How do I make changes to a listed building). It can often be considered as an expensive option, and there can be a temptation to appoint other, often cheaper, professionals; in fact, this can be counter-productive, and moreover can add delay or additional costs to your projects.

If you are working with historic and listed churches on repair specifications and minor or major projects, we strongly encourage the involvement of an architect, especially one who is accredited in conservation. Indeed, this should be a way to guarantee that those designing your repair work or project have the relevant experience, technical skill and the ability to project manage, as well as understanding how to obtain permission under the Ecclesiastical Exemption.  They should also be able to share and help progress your vision, be creative and understand your needs and requirements due to their experience of working on ecclesiastical buildings.

It is also important to remember that some funders, such as the National Churches Trust, will insist on the use of an accredited professional for all schemes involving designated heritage assets. To find an appropriately qualified architect you can contact the local branch of the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects): www.ribafind.org  or you can search the register on the AABC (The Register of Architects Accredited in Building Conservation) https://www.aabc-register.co.uk/.

There are other ways of finding an accredited architect than searching various registers. You might ask the Connexional Conservation Officer, Circuit officers, nearby churches of all denominations, or the local Anglican Diocesan Office. Of course, your property steward or District Property Secretary may know of someone, including a Quinquennial architect they may use. Alternatively, you can advertise and invite specific architects to tender for your project.

This may seem daunting but it can be the best way of finding a qualified professional who will show a greater understanding of you and your building. To help carry this out, your church will need to provide those tendering with the following information:

Your interview with those invited to present is an appropriate time to check whether they understand your vision, aims and needs. Remember that it is also an opportunity to:

  • Look at other examples of their work
  • Inspect references from other churches
  • Visit completed schemes and to ask the trustees of these churches of their experience with the architect
  • Ask the architect to give a short presentation to the Managing Trustees. In this way, it is usually possible for the Managing Trustees to establish which practice they feel most comfortable with, and also to ask questions in a fairly informal atmosphere, before any formal appointment is made.
  • Don’t forget to have as many members of the project team available for the interviews.
  • Do ask your District Property Secretary if they wish to attend, especially if you propose a major project.
  • Do not consider the price to be the principal deciding factor as the success of the project will be dependent on a number of influences mentioned above; however, do ensure you know how the architect’s fees and costs work.

Your relationship with the architect does not have to finish once your project is completed. Indeed, continuing this relationship can have a number of benefits if you find the right professional. They can be further employed for Quinquennial Inspections and may be happy to be consulted if you need a schedule of works or repair specification for ongoing maintenance works. This way you know you have someone you can rely on and trust to support and assist you for all your fabric repair needs.

Of course there are alternatives to the traditional design approach of architects leading the creative design process. If you wish to try community-led design, please see the resources produced recently by Empowering Design Practices. This is a five-year collaborative research project exploring how community-led design can help and empower those who look after historic places of worship to create more open, vibrant and sustainable places that respect and enhance their heritage.

Whilst we would always encourage the use of architects, it could be true that the work, which you plan to do requires a specialist in another expert capacity, such as structural engineering; clearly an architect wouldn’t be appropriate in this instance. Thankfully, there are lists of structural engineers accredited in conservation and one such list can be found by following this link: http://www.careregister.org.uk/. You can also find accredited surveyors here: https://www.ricsfirms.com/accreditations/building-conservation-accreditation-scheme/.

Remember also that there are professionals who specialise in particular areas of expertise relating to the care of ecclesiastical buildings. This may include church heating engineers or independent remedial surveyors who understand the impact of, and can sympathetically recommend ways to treat excessive damp affecting historic buildings. Speak to the Connexional Conservation Officer for contact details, or alternatively you can consult the Building Conservation website: https://www.buildingconservation.com/.

If you are looking for accredited contractors experienced in church and historic building maintenance you can register your interest on the MaintenanceBooker Service (https://www.maintenancebooker.org.uk/) including details of the work required. Contractors will then contact you with a quotation and details of their availability.

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